Debugging a few defective defaults in Lion

My review of Mac OS X Lion for Discovery News represented a departure from long-standing practice: For the first time in maybe a decade, I reviewed a new Apple operating-system upgrade by installing it on my primary computer, not an expendable review machine.

As you can read in that writeup, the installation went fine on my late-2009 iMac, and I consider Lion to be a good deal overall. But I also disliked enough of Apple’s changes to prior Mac behavior that I found myself quickly undoing these new defaults–which is another thing I traditionally haven’t had to do with a Mac upgrade. Here are my major corrections:

Tame scrolling and zooming behavior. By default, Lion imposes two iOS aspects on OS X, “reverse scroll” and “smart zoom.” The former has you flicking two fingers in the direction of scroll on a Mac laptop’s trackpad or a Mac desktop’s Magic Mouse, as if either were the screen of an iPad or iPhone–i.e., the opposite of how you’ve scrolled on a computer until now. The latter zooms into a window if you tap two fingers on either input device–which I found myself doing unintentionally way too often. Fundamentally, I think you need a different user-interface grammar on a computer and a touchscreen mobile device. As long as the computer requires you control it through indirect manipulation–that is, by touching something besides the display–the mobile model breaks down. If you agree, you can undo both of Apple’s changes in the Mouse and Trackpad panes of System Preferences.

Show scroll bars. In general, I appreciate Apple’s willingness to edit out complexity and pare things down to the minimum. But hiding scrolls bars until you start to scroll with the mouse or trackpad seems an enormous mistake. In long documents, I felt lost and kept gesturing with the mouse to force the scroll bar to resurface. The effect was even more annoying in Web forms on a page and in other cramped, scrolling-required boxes. And to what benefit–to save a few pixels of screen real estate on the right edge of the window or form? No thanks, Apple. I’ll live with that clutter if it stops me from reflexively twitching a finger on the mouse every few minutes. To undo that mistake, click the button next to “Always” under “Show scroll bars” in the General pane of System Preferences.

Make the Library folder visible again. Apple somehow elected to copy one of Microsoft’s stupider interface decisions by hiding the Library folder in Lion. This is where your applications store their preferences, supporting files and some of their data–and it’s far more human-readable than the tangled array of hidden “AppData” sub-folders in Windows 7 that Microsoft hides from its users. Many common troubleshooting routines require access to your Library’s contents, but Lion hides the entire folder from view. To make it visible again, open the Terminal app and paste in the following command, then hit Enter:

chflags nohidden ~/Library

(That comes from a TidBITS post, but there are other ways to get at this folder. Macworld offers a full 18 workarounds.)

I may adjust more of Lion’s defaults as I get more familiar with this operating-system upgrade. I can also think of other changes I’d make on a laptop–for instance, setting Lion to show a messages when then screen is locked, then maybe adding Boxee to replace the Front Row media-browsing software Apple excised from OS X. But for now, these are the big three fixes I’d make to any Lion installation. What’s on your own list?

Update, 9/7, 4:17 p.m. Since writing this, I’ve had to change two other system settings:

  • To stop getting flicked from the Finder into the Dashboard by an unintended two-finger gesture, I unchecked the “Show Dashboard as a space” checkbox in System Preferences’ Mission Control pane.
  • After twice losing work when my attempt to scroll horizontally led Safari to assume I wanted to go to the previous page–after which this browser failed to return me to the blog post I’d been composing–I unchecked the “Swipe between pages” checkbox under the “More Gestures” heading in System Prefs’ Mouse pane.

19 thoughts on “Debugging a few defective defaults in Lion

  1. Thanks for the Library tip, gotta implement that.

    Lion seems to work well on vanilla mac systems, VMWare had no problem with it. But a friend who has his Time Machine on a Synology NAS had major issues and had to install beta firmware on the NAS to fit it. From what I’ve been hearing, Apple changed something in Time Machine and then neglected to actually test it thoroughly with the result that no Time Machine volume on a NAS device works. Oops.

  2. From my superannuated point of view, I don’t see any resaon to install Lion. Browsing, games, WP. That’s pretty much all we do.

  3. My early impressions, from a G+ post:
    “Nice that there’s a little account management widget in the upper right.

    The window open/close/minimize buttons: Too damn small!

    Scrolling: At least it’s easy to return it to the Proper Way.

    iCal and Address Book: Really? Are unicorns farting rainbows next?

    Mail. Not sure yet…

    Mission Control (Really?): Not bad. Spaces is decent, once you figure it out.

    Launchpad: Why? I can hit Command+spacebar and get an application started just as fast, if not faster. Or I could create a stack on the Dock. Also, the logo looks a lot like Stubby, at

    Other stuff:
    FF 6.0 and Chrome run as good as ever.
    Handbrake is as awesome as ever.”

  4. Rob, does Lion do anything more to make it harder to download software from third party sites instead of the App Store? I’m fine getting Facetime and some other apps from Apple directly but don’t want to lose ability to go elsewhere for Mac apps too.

    • The only difference I’ve seen with installing third-party software is how Safari presents downloads: Instead of opening a small, separate window showing their progress, it adds a small widget at the right end of its toolbar. If anything, that’s a little more visible than the old way.

      FWIW, Mac developers have told me that they keep more of an app’s price if you pay through a third-party site than if you buy through the Mac App Store. That’s something to think about if you’re buying a new version of a program you already like.

      – RP

  5. Hi, Rob.
    I also have a late 2009 iMac, but I’ve been having issues with repeated freezes since the Lion upgrade. Everyone seems to be grousing about more recent iMacs and video-specific issues, so I was wondering if you were having any lockups and what graphics chipset your iMac uses. Mine has the ATI Radeon HD 4670.

  6. Another behaviour that’s changed that I’m not sure I like is that Preview and Textedit both quit after you close their last open document window, a la Windows. Not a big deal since they open right up again when you open your next document, but it is slightly annoying to have the program constantly starting/quitting as I use a lot of documents but keep the desktop fairly clean in between.

    As well, there are huge issues with Lion and graphics switching, as documented elsewhere. Mostly seem to be affecting mid-2010 MB Pro’s (which is what I have 😦 ) but they don’t seem to be limited to that exact variant either. Lots of Black Screen of Death with the Nvidia discrete GPU’s.

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